Presented by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office
While it is beyond doubt that composite materials have constituted a turning point in sectors such as aeronautics, transportation and wind power, it is also true that at the end of their useful lives they frequently end up in uncontrolled landfill sites, at risk of combustion that could create toxic substances harmful to health and the environment.
With the aim of contributing to resolving this serious problem, scientists from the National Center for Metallurgical Research at the Spanish National Research Council founded BCIRCULAR, a start-up company focused on recycling carbon fiber and glass from wind turbine blades, planes and boats.
The solution has arrived thanks to a technology conceived in the laboratories of the National Research Council and licensed to BCIRCULAR as the only technology that can produce clean fibers for reuse in other sectors and create new carbon fiber-based materials intended for sectors such as transportation and construction.
The technology has been successfully tested with wind turbine blades and waste from the aeronautics industry, transportation and the leisure and recreation sector.
BCIRCULAR was founded after the technology developed by the Council to reclaim carbon fibers and glass in composite materials at the end of their life cycles was validated, following a two-year incubation period with the Repsol Foundation’s Entrepreneurs Fund.
After years of work by the research group, this program was a decisive step that made it viable to create a new company based on research areas involving recycling.
Initially, the technology developed was protected by industrial secrecy. At present, in addition to this protection and a number of other research outcomes also kept as trade secrets, the company has developed a new patent, protected by European patent No. EP3409749A1, which is currently being extended internationally to the United States of America, China and Japan.
Having traversed a long path to its current situation, the company has progressed from being an idea in a laboratory to having almost reached the market; thanks to assistance from the public sector, such as the NEOTEC program of the Spanish Center for the Development of Industrial Technology, it is hoped it will arrive on the market in 2022.
Its business model is based on the reclamation of carbon fibers and the creation of new materials using various techniques, including 3D printing with carbon fiber filaments recovered from post-consumer materials.
It is also open to the sale of its technology through licensing. The company is known internationally as it has participated in various accelerator programs, including the EDP Starter and Climate-KIC programs, with the aim of adding value to its output.
Moreover, it has been presented at more than 15 international start-up contests in Europe.
Known initially as “TRC”, the company won the EIT KIC Raw Materials Accelerator prize and first prize at the Salón Naútic in Barcelona, among the many awards it has received since its establishment.
BCIRCULAR is an example of how the strategic management of intellectual property outcomes can indicate the importance of the knowledge created over the decades in research centers, such as the National Center for Metallurgical Research (under the Spanish National Research Council), which has grown and expanded its market niche through public-private collaboration.
The Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) is a state agency for scientific research and the technological development of Spain. Its aim is to encourage, coordinate, develop and disseminate multidisciplinary scientific and technological research in order to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and to economic, social and cultural development.
The Council, by means of its 120 centers throughout Spain, carries out research in all scientific and technological fields. The Council is the number one patent applicant in Spain, applies for more European patents and international patents (applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty) than any other body in Spain, and has the third highest number of European patents of all European public bodies.
In the last five years, the Council has licensed 437 technologies for market exploitation, of which 216 have been protected by patents.
In the last 10 years, it has given rise to the establishment of more than 130 new technology companies based around the technologies developed by the Council.